Elevate Writing Focus and Enjoyment with Music

Many beginning writers—especially boys with ADD or ADHD—can find writing a chore. MENC member Glenda Cosenza has found a process that improves focus and persistence for and increases students’ enjoyment of writing.

Cosenza uses music, creative movement, and drawing to inspire writing in kindergarten through second-grade students. Read how in her lesson plan. In surveys, students’ preference for writing (as compared to reading or being read to) increased significantly as a result of this process, especially among boys with ADD or ADHD. “Writing requires extraordinary amounts of focus and persistence,” Cosenza says. “The movement and music seem to help them with the increased neurological demands of writing.”

After doing this activity, students began requesting music pieces. Some favorites were J. S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto no. 3, Paganini’s “Perpetuo Moto,” and Saint-Saens’s “The Swan,” “Aquarium,” and “Character with Long Ears.”

When Cosenza plays Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee,” students make tiny, erratic, close-together, fine-motor movements. When she plays Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, they make sweeping, arching, leaping movements with their whole bodies. “Happens every time!” Cosenza says. “Even though young children cannot articulate the differences between these two pieces verbally, they can show them kinesthetically, and the teacher has no doubt that they are listening acutely and perceiving the musical structures.”

When writing, children can use “invented” or “pretend” writing rather than struggling with spelling and writing mechanics. For nonnative English speakers, “this meant freedom and a true chance to express their thoughts in written form in a way that they felt successful and their ideas valued, even cherished,” says Cosenza. She warns, “Be prepared for some resistance to the pretend/invented writing. Pressures of NCLB have meant that the learning processes are getting shortchanged in the frantic rush to improve test scores.” However, she’s found that generally classroom teachers support this process.

Glenda Cosenza is an associate professor of music education at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.
Linda Brown, May 28, 2008 © MENC: The National Association for Music Education
This ends the series on National Standards 8 and 9.